Lure of coastal life out­weighs dangers

Hur­ri­canes hit fast-grow­ing ar­eas

Albuquerque Journal - - NATION - BY JEFF DONN

Ris­ing sea lev­els and fierce storms have failed to stop re­lent­less pop­u­la­tion growth along U.S. coasts in re­cent years, a new Associated Press anal­y­sis shows. The lat­est pun­ish­ing hur­ri­canes di­rectly hit two of the coun­try’s fastest grow­ing re­gions: coastal Texas around Hous­ton and re­sort ar­eas of south­west Florida.

Noth­ing seems to curb Amer­ica’s ap­petite for life near the sea, es­pe­cially in the warmer cli­mates of the South. Coastal de­vel­op­ment de­stroys nat­u­ral bar­ri­ers such as is­lands and wet­lands, pro­motes ero­sion and flood­ing, and po­si­tions more build­ings and peo­ple in the path of fu­ture de­struc­tion, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers and pol­icy ad­vis­ers who study hur­ri­canes.

“His­tory gives us a les­son, but we don’t al­ways learn from it,” said Graham Tobin, a disas­ter re­searcher at the Univer­sity of South Florida in Tampa. That city took a glanc­ing hit from Hur­ri­cane Irma but suf­fered less flood­ing and dam­age than some other parts of the state.

In 2005, coastal com­mu­ni­ties took heed of more than 1,800 deaths and $108 bil­lion in da­m­ages from Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina. Images of New Or­leans un­der wa­ter elicited solemn res­o­lu­tions that such a thing should never hap­pen again — un­til Su­per­storm Sandy in­un­dated lower Man­hat­tan in 2012. Last year, Hur­ri­cane Matthew spread more deaths, flood­ing and black­outs across Florida, Georgia and the Caroli­nas. From 2010-2016, ma­jor hur­ri­canes and trop­i­cal storms are blamed for more than 280 deaths and $100 bil­lion in da­m­ages, ac­cord­ing to data from the fed­eral Na­tional Cen­ters for En­vi­ron­men­tal In­for­ma­tion.

Four coun­ties around Hous­ton took the full force of Har­vey. The pop­u­la­tion of those coun­ties ex­panded by 12 per­cent from 2010 to 2016, to a to­tal of 5.3 mil­lion peo­ple, the AP anal­y­sis shows.

Dur­ing the same years, two of Florida’s fastest­grow­ing coast­line coun­ties — re­tire­ment-friendly Lee and Mana­tee, both south of Tampa — wel­comed 16 per­cent more peo­ple. That area took a se­cond di­rect hit from Irma af­ter it made first land­fall in the Florida Keys.

Over­all growth of 10 per­cent in Texas Gulf coun­ties and 9 per­cent along Florida’s coasts dur­ing the same pe­riod was sur­passed only by South Carolina. Its sea­side pop­u­la­tion bal­looned by more than 13 per­cent.

Na­tion­ally, coast­line coun­ties grew an av­er­age of 5.6 per­cent since 2010, while in­land coun­ties gained just 4 per­cent. This re­cent trend tracks with decades of de­vel­op­ment along U.S. coasts. Be­tween 1960 and 2008, the na­tional coast­line pop­u­la­tion rose by 84 per­cent, com­pared with 64 per­cent in­land, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­sus Bureau.

In Horry County, S.C., where 19 per­cent growth has led all of the state’s coast­line coun­ties, Irma caused only mi­nor coastal flood­ing. The county’s low prop­erty taxes are made pos­si­ble by rapid de­vel­op­ment and tourism fees, al­low­ing re­tirees from the North and Mid­west to live more cheaply.

Add the area’s mod­er­ate weather, ap­peal­ing golf cour­ses, and long white strands and maybe no one can slow de­vel­op­ment there. “I don’t see how you do it,” said Johnny Vaught, vice chair­man of the county coun­cil. “The only thing you can do is mod­u­late it, so devel­op­ments are well de­signed.”


Waves pound a sea­wall in Bis­cayne Bay, Fla., on Sept. 10. De­fy­ing any threats from weather, coastal coun­ties’ pop­u­la­tion growth has been above av­er­age for decades.

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